The next night, it was Marie's turn for a date with Brooklyn again. Not that both parties were looking forward to it…

Brooklyn reminded himself that even if he'd privately already decided against choosing Marie, he still had to go through the motions. He'd promised everyone that he'd go on at least three dates with each female who was interested before announcing any sort of decision, and Isabel, Yvette, Martha and Marie had all agreed to not interfere with each other's dates during that time. If he reneged on his end of the agreement, he wouldn't put it past Marie to renege on hers, and make things a lot harder for everyone involved.

So he approached her right after they awoke at sunset, and asked her if she'd show him her favorite hunting grounds in the bayou. Ursula had suggested that the second series of dates take place out in the bayou, and combine work with pleasure by having each dating pair bring back food for the larder.

But Marie didn't want to start hunting right away. "How about we have a nice picnic first?" she suggested with a smile. "I know the perfect spot for it."

"Hunting on a full stomach?" Brooklyn asked with a raised brow ridge. "In the old clan, the hunters always went out hungry, to keep their senses sharp."

"Oh, it'll be a light meal; just some wine and cheese and crackers," Marie explained.

Brooklyn kept the brow ridge raised. "Alcohol, before a hunt? Remember, we're expected to actually catch something..."

"Oh, piffle. Just a glass or two with the cheese and crackers won't dull your senses, and if it does, it'll wear off soon enough! Come on, I've got a picnic basket ready." And with that, Marie led him to a tree just inside the bayou's edge, and the picnic basket she'd wrapped in a red-checkered plastic sheet and tucked up in the tree branches.

Brooklyn decided that if she'd gone to all this preparation for their date, he might as well humor her and have a picnic before hunting. He'd just nibble the cheese and crackers, and limit himself to one glass of wine. She was right in that one glass of wine wouldn't fog his senses too much, and with his metabolism, it would wear off even faster than it would for a human. Just an hour or so of relaxation and conversation, before they found out how well they could work together as well as play together. Not that it would ultimately matter, but he had to go through the motions, and there was no need for it to be unpleasant for either of them.


Back at the mansion, Robert had finally managed to quietly get Adam and Stephen together, and tell them what he and Ignatius had discovered last night, as well as the results of Robert's investigative work while the clan leader and second had been unavailable. Adam frowned in thought before saying, "Send for Keith, and ask him to bring along a testing kit. We'll need-"

Robert coughed slightly. "Pardon me, Adam, but I did so last night. He said he would bring a kit of the appropriate testing strips along by eight o'clock tonight; that's the soonest he can get away from the police benefit function that's going on in town."

Stephen nodded approvingly. "Well done. Now there's the matter of keeping a discreet eye on the three possible suspects you named, until Adam and I can pull them aside and ask them a few questions."

Adam's frown grew more severe. "For our favorite prankster Etienne, that's easy enough; he's at his sentry post right now, or he'd damn well better be. And Michael is currently in transit to the safe house; I'll call the LeBeau family and have them delay his start on patrol. But for the third suspect…"


Marie led Brooklyn to a secluded glen in the bayou, with a grassy hillock that was high enough above the water table that it was nice and dry. Marie spread out the plastic picnic blanket and set out the victuals, and carefully sliced the cheese into thin wedges for putting on the crackers. Then she handed Brooklyn the glasses and wine bottle with a smile. "Would you pour, please?"

"Delighted to," Brooklyn said, as he poked a talon into the cork of the bottle and tugged lightly to pull it out. He poured two glasses of the red wine, then offered one to Marie with a gallant, "For you, mademoiselle."

"Thank you. I hope you like this wine; it's made in New Orleans by an ally to the clan, and it's received excellent ratings in the local cuisine magazines! Go ahead, try it," Marie encouraged.

Oh, brother. She expected him to know a good wine from a not-so-good wine? Back in the Dark Ages, all any gargoyle usually had to drink was beer received in trade from the peasants, which was so thick with hops and barley it was nearly a soup, and the rare cup of mead or ale if the current ruler of Castle Wyvern was feeling generous. They'd had access to a lot more in the way of alcoholic beverages since moving back into the castle recently, but what Brooklyn actually knew about wine could have been carved into that wine cork, with room to spare. But his pride wouldn't let him admit that to Marie, so he decided to try faking it.

He carefully sniffed the glass first, just as he'd seen Xanatos do when trying a new wine for the first time; the billionaire was always receiving bottles of wine and brandy as gifts from visiting dignitaries. Now, what was the phrase he'd heard? "Ah, an excellent bouquet." Though he didn't have the faintest idea what a bunch of flowers had to do with wine. Next step, as he recalled, was to take a sip and swish it around in his mouth for a while, before saying words like 'robust' or 'delicate'. Taking just a small sip could be a problem, since Marie had provided glasses but no straw for a beaked gargoyle to drink out of. But he could manage, if he was careful; he raised the glass up high and leaned his head back, opened his beak wide, and began to slowly tilt the glass. He'd tip it just enough to pour in a few drops, and—

"DON'T!" came a shout of alarm, from above and to the right. Startled, Brooklyn shut his beak and looked around in time to see Robert come swooping in—to swat the glass right out of Brooklyn's still upraised hand.

After swatting the glass away, so hard it went flying into the muck, Robert wheeled about and landed right in the middle of the picnic, scattering the basket and food everywhere. "You stinking bitch!" he shouted at Marie, just as Marie launched herself straight at Robert with talons out and a snarl of "You've ruined everything!"

Brooklyn stared wide-eyed at the fight breaking out right in front of him and plaintively asked the air, "What the hell just happened?"


After Adam and Stephen had arrived and helped Brooklyn break the combatants apart, everyone assembled inside the clan's dance hall for what turned into a grand council meeting. Once all the clan elders were in place, Adam called for order and let Robert take the center to speak.

Robert explained, for the benefit of the Manhattan Clan members sitting in, why the clan had a bottle containing a tincture of LSD and what they used it for. Then he called on Ignatius to explain how he'd noticed that the bottle containing the tincture had been swapped out with another of the same size and shape, by someone that had tried to forge Ignatius' own seal but not quite succeeded.

Keith Bayard had arrived from the city by that time, and brought with him the test strips used by the forensic lab to determine if LSD was present. A test strip dipped into the solution in the suspect bottle proved to be negative.

"This in itself is a very serious matter," Adam declared with a scowl. "Suppose that this very night we had another incident of exposure, like that naturalist who tried to take pictures of us for selling to National Geographic? With no way of giving such a person hallucinations that would make him doubt he'd ever truly seen living gargoyles, we would have to take more drastic action in order to protect our home and hatchlings! To cross a line that has not been crossed in nearly a century, one that I had hoped would never be crossed again," as his gaze swept the hall and all assembled in it. His glare silently asked them who was willing to cross that line and do the unspeakable, and few of the gargoyles or humans were able to meet his gaze; those that did looked grim indeed, or sick to their stomachs.

Brooklyn himself swallowed hard at the thought of what Adam had clearly been implying. To kill in battle, yes, the old clan had done that whether they liked it or not. But to cold-bloodedly execute someone, just for being too curious… that was truly abominable. But to protect a clan's precious hatchlings, from people like the Quarrymen and the assassin who'd nearly killed Broadway…

"Very true, leader; just the theft itself is bad enough. But there is also the question of why it was stolen, and what purpose the thief intended it for," Robert reminded them all. Then he went on to detail his investigations of the night before; questioning the sentries who had been at their posts and the hunters who had been out catching prey for the clan, to discover who had been spotted in the vicinity of the distillery since Ignatius' last visit. "In the end, only three gargoyles had been seen gliding to or from the area where the distillery is hidden. Etienne, Michael… and Marie," as he glared right at her.

Marie glared coldly right back at him. "And what under the stars would I want any LSD for?"

"For giving to Brooklyn, so you could take advantage of him," Robert retorted. Gasps arose from many of those assembled as he continued, "Gossip has been spreading through the clan of how your actions on your first date with him, and the way you approached him on the very night that we held a memorial service for Brentwood, made Brooklyn view you in disfavor."

Brooklyn wanted to protest at that. He hadn't been shooting his mouth off about how he regarded Marie, precisely so it wouldn't get back to her! He'd only talked privately with his own clan members and Robert, and Robert had promised to keep his mouth shut!

But when he glanced at his own clan members, clustered next to him, he noticed that a few of them looked vaguely guilty. Lexington, who was engaged to Rebecca. Angela, who had become good friends with Lucretia and Cassius. Broadway, who was often in the kitchen with Martha. And even Hudson, who was engaged to Ursula. He hadn't thought to swear any of them to silence…

Robert continued, "It was inevitable that such gossip would get back to you. You knew you were losing ground to your sisters, and that you'd never win Brooklyn's heart… so you decided to take his body, instead. By taking him on a picnic, and giving him wine laced with LSD! Because LSD does more than induce hallucinations. It short-circuits the judgment of its victims, rendering them impulsive, acting on whatever notion enters their heads. And some of them become extremely open to suggestion… A suggestion such as 'Just lie back and hold still while I jump your bones, and get your bonding scent marker'…"

Brooklyn went cold inside; a polar cold, numbing his very soul. The world went gray…

A little while later he realized he was doubled over and dry-heaving. And that his clan had surrounded him with flared wings, hiding him from view of the crowd, while Hudson patted his back and murmured in soothing tones that it hadn't actually happened, laddie, and it never would if old Hudson had anything to say about it.

After a few moments he was able to stand up again. But by that time, Marie had already denounced Robert, saying that he could never prove any of his sick, twisted accusations.

Which turned out to be too true, regarding physical evidence; by the time Brooklyn, Adam and Stephen had broken the fight up, the wine bottle and glasses had all been kicked into the swamp. They'd been recovered, but the swamp muck had coated and filled them to such a degree that there was little hope of finding any traces of LSD. Keith tried anyway, taking swabs of muck from inside the bottle and applying them to test strips, but they all turned up negative.

Marie argued that since Etienne was a known prankster who'd played tricks aplenty on clan members in the past, he was really the most likely suspect for taking the LSD. And that Marie herself was only being accused because Robert had wanted to do anything he could to break up Marie and Brooklyn's date—so he could move in on Brooklyn himself!

More outraged gasps arose, while Marie sneered, "We've all seen how you hang around the newcomers, who don't seem to recognize your perversity as being sinful in the eyes of God!" The last was said with a quick but pious look heavenward, before she glared at Robert again. "And you took that as encouragement, to not only continue depriving the breeding pool of a needed male, but to take out another one too if you could!"

Robert looked aghast, too stricken to even speak in his own defense, so Rebecca spoke up for him; leaping in between him and Marie with talons out and eyes blazing crimson as she snarled, "That's a lie!"

"Rebecca, stand down," Adam said quietly but firmly. "Let Robert speak for himself."

When Robert finally found his voice, he swore fervently, "I swear to you all that I have no designs on Brooklyn, nor ever had any! I know what my sexual orientation means to the breeding pool, and I would not want Brooklyn to face the same condemnation I've faced from my clanfolk! I would not see him hurt--or used!--but that's because I see him as a friend; nothing more!"

Brooklyn believed him. He'd been alone with Robert more than once, and if the male had been really interested in him, he would have said or done something by now. But from the looks Robert was now getting from some members of the assembly, it appeared that even some of his own clanfolk didn't believe him.

There was more arguing, more people called in. Etienne was brought in from his post and swore on his wings that he hadn't taken the LSD, and Michael phoned in from the city with the same oath. But it was impossible to prove that Marie had done it. At Hudson's suggestion, they let Bronx sniff the bottle that had been on the distillery shelf, to see if he could find a trace of Marie's scent on it. But the only scent Bronx could pick out after two nights of it being immersed in the distillery's alcoholic stench, was Ignatius' from when he'd been inspecting the forged seal earlier.

No one could prove that Marie had taken the LSD, let alone what she'd intended it for. All that could be proven… was that Robert had forcibly disrupted Marie and Brooklyn's date, and picked a fight with her. And Marie demanded that he be punished for it!

Finally, Adam sighed heavily and administered judgment. "One night we will discover who took the LSD, and on that night I promise there will be retribution! But tonight… Robert, you have done injury to your rookery sister. For the next four nights, you will stay in the bayou, and not come within sight of the estate. But you will not go as a 'gator; your wings will not be bound, nor will your voice be silenced if some other clan member happens to encounter you while they're out hunting. Think of it as an extremely long hunting trip, to give everyone involved time to cool down."

Temporary banishment from the clan, for acting in what he'd thought had been Brooklyn's defense? That just wasn't right! Brooklyn started to step forward to protest, but felt Goliath's hand on his shoulder and turned to see his own clan leader shaking his head. "Say nothing, Brooklyn," Goliath whispered. "Adam had to make judgment on what actually happened… not on what might have happened."

And Goliath was right, dammit. Judgments had to be based on facts, not theories. And from what Adam had said about what Robert would not be subjected to, he was probably being as lenient as he could without risking accusations of favoritism.

But even as Brooklyn settled back in resignation, he overheard Rebecca hissing to Lex, "Please understand; I need to do this!" before stepping into the center of the assembly. She walked up to Robert, ignoring his shaking head and whatever he was whispering to her, then turned to address Adam. "Clan leader, I ask to be included in my brother's punishment!"

Adam shook his head. "Rebecca, that would not be justice. You have done your sister no injury."

In answer, Rebecca turned to where the smirking Marie was standing… and whipped her arm up and out. And the fork she must have palmed from one of the crockery hutches lining the hall went flying across the room, to stick tines-first into Marie's right wing.

Marie shrieked in mingled pain and outrage, while Rebecca turned back to Adam and said calmly, "Now I have."

For a few long moments, everyone was speechless with shock. Then Adam exploded, "Eight nights! Eight nights for both of you, and you're forbidden to speak to anyone who might see you! Now get out of here, both of you, before I have your wings bound as well!"

Robert took Rebecca by the arm and began hurrying her towards the nearest exit, while the crowd parted to clear a path for them. Brooklyn mentally saluted Rebecca's courage and loyalty for sticking by her rookery brother, even as he was appalled by her impulsiveness. It was a good thing that Robert was coming back to Manhattan with them when their vacation was over; it would probably take both Lex and Robert to keep her from constantly getting into trouble!

Speaking of Lex… he started paying attention to what his rookery brother was saying to Goliath. "...guests here, but I see you as my leader, not Adam. So, my leader, I request permission for an extended hunting trip in the bayou… and if you say no, then I'll go anyway and you can just banish me in absentia."

Goliath scowled down at Lexington, who stared back up at him with determination on his features. Then Goliath growled, but quietly, "Take a different exit, and stay low and unnoticed until you're in the bayou!"

Lexington grinned before turning and scampering through the crowd, in the opposite direction from which Robert and Rebecca were heading. But Brooklyn had no doubt that he'd find the banished pair before they went too far into the bayou.

Hudson nodded after Lexington. "Such loyalty, after not even a fortnight of knowing each other. That'll be a good strong bonding, mark my words!"

Goliath gave a lopsided smile as he murmured, "I wouldn't be surprised if they came back in eight nights with bonded markers already in their scents, instead of waiting for the ceremony."

"Aye, mayhap they will, even with the lass's brother along as chaperone. Particularly since our lad can say he was following his leader's example," as Hudson gave Goliath a sidelong look.

Everyone else smirked, but Goliath refused to blush.


The night wasn't even half over, but Brooklyn was already looking forward to stone sleep. Unfortunately, Marie found him again before dawn did. "Surely you don't believe I would ever do such a horrible thing as Robert accused me of… do you?" as she looked him right in the eyes.

"It really was a horrible accusation," Brooklyn replied, with all the diplomacy he could muster. Looking at her right now, with standing there with bandages covering her many minor injuries (scrapes, bruises and small gashes from the fight with Robert, as well as the punctured wing she'd gotten from Rebecca) and with her hands clasped and an imploring look on her face, it was hard to believe she could do anything nasty, let alone something as horrible as that. The bandages didn't detract much from her beauty, and made her look more vulnerable. He had to fight back an impulse to pat her hand comfortingly and murmur soothing words of reassurance.

But he didn't have to fight those gallant impulses very hard. Because he remembered how she'd been pushing for a picnic at the start of the date, instead of roasting a kill for themselves afterwards to celebrate a successful hunt, which was more traditional. And he remembered how she'd been encouraging him to sample the wine… without touching the wine in her own glass, even though he'd handed it to her before picking up his own. And he remembered the words she'd snarled at Robert as the fight began: "You've ruined everything!"

He could come up with legitimate excuses for each instance, taken by itself. Robert had indeed ruined everything edible for the picnic, both the wine and the food with his dramatic entrance. And Marie had lived all her life in close contact with humans, who would surely think a picnic more romantic and suitable for a date than roasting a kill together after a hunt. And she might well have taken a drink of wine after Brooklyn, the guest of honor, had tried it and judged it acceptable…

He would never know for sure. But he did know that he had no desire to eat or drink anything this female handed to him, ever again.

But he didn't say any of that to her. And when she asked about resuming their date, and getting more picnic supplies from the kitchen, he hastily came up with, "Well, gee, Marie, the night's half over now… and I'm so hungry I could eat a gator, scaly hide and all. It'd take more than a picnic of wine and cheese to satisfy me; it'd be better if I just go right out and hunt down something! But with your poor wounded wing—those fork tines went in pretty deep, didn't they? You'd better just stay here and rest that wing, while I go hunting for both of us. Don't worry, I'll save a couple of nice fat nutria for us to roast together," he called over his shoulder as he ran for the nearest exit.

"Well, then… tomorrow we'll have a real hunting date, right? Since you gave Isabel a second chance for a date!" Marie called after him as he ran, but Brooklyn pretended not to hear.


Out in the bayou, Lexington had found Robert and Rebecca and informed them that he was going with them; Robert had tried to protest, but Rebecca had gladly accepted him. Now the three of them were traveling together into the deeps of the swamp, at the outer limits of the clan's territory.

As the trio glided together, Lexington explained that he'd come along out of loyalty to Rebecca, and to Robert to a lesser degree; he knew he wasn't the only one who thought it unfair that Robert ended up getting punished for acting to protect Brooklyn. "But I have to be honest here… I'm still not convinced that you were right about what Marie was planning. I mean, even disregarding how evil such a scheme would be, there's the fact that LSD just doesn't affect everyone the same way. She'd have had no guarantees that Brooklyn wouldn't have a 'bad trip' and end up freaking so much that he turned paranoid and wouldn't let her go near him. We came across a teenager high on LSD on one of our patrols in Manhattan, and he wouldn't let anyone go near him, even his own mother; he actually ran out into traffic to get away from her, while she was begging him to come home and stay safe. Broadway grabbed him by the collar before he got run over and carried him back to the sidewalk, and finally had to knock him out to keep him from doing it again. If Brooklyn reacted like that on LSD…"

"He might have," Robert said. "And if he had, Marie would have had absolutely no chance of making him her mate by force. But the sedative we give people on LSD to knock them out for taking back to town is administered by injection, and it's kept locked up in Guilliame's medical safe. The LSD is the only drug that's kept in the distillery instead of the safe… and that's probably going to change in the near future."

"Probably a good idea," Lex agreed. "But still, if Marie was really going to give Brooklyn LSD, she had to have known that the odds of him having the sort of trip where she could… do whatever she wanted with him… weren't all that good."

"Probably 3-to-1 odds at best," Robert admitted. "But like I said, by tonight she had to have known that she already had no chance with him otherwise."

"Oh, she knew," Rebecca threw in, looking embarrassed. "Three nights ago I, um, asked her outright if it was true that Brooklyn had said to her after Brentwood's funeral, 'just go away, you cold-blooded bitch'."

Robert looked at her askance. "He actually said that?"

"Well, that was the version I heard from Cecelia, who got it from Adelbert, who got it from Joan; I'm not sure who Joan heard it from. Though Brooklyn does seem too nice to say something like that to even Marie's face. But yeah, she knew that we all knew that he didn't really like her."

"So she knew she had no chance with him otherwise. And Marie is definitely the type to go out and get what she wants regardless of other people's feelings; those of us who grew up with her can all testify to that. If she were human, and male, I can virtually guarantee she'd be a rapist."

Lex was so shocked that he faltered in flight for a moment. But he corrected quickly enough, and pulled back up alongside Robert, utterly aghast. "You can't be serious! Look, I don't like her myself, I think she's a stuck-up bitch, but she isn't… evil."

But both Rebecca and Robert just looked at him, and shook their heads. "You didn't really have that much to do with your human allies back in the Dark Ages, did you?" Robert asked. "I heard Brooklyn say that you didn't really interact with them socially."

"No, we didn't," Lex admitted. "We guarded the territory together, but that was about it. The clan leader and second-in-command did most of the interfacing for us, and for the most part we were glad to leave it to them. Only a few humans made any effort to understand us; the rest considered us just talking animals. And it's real hard to be friends with someone who thinks you're a beast, just because you don't see the need for a name."

"So your idea of rape is probably that it's only done by invading soldiers after they overrun a village, or by evil men who lie in wait for women out walking alone," Robert surmised.

"Um… yeah, the Vikings were pretty infamous for it. And we've foiled a few rapes back in Manhattan, in Central Park and in alleys here and there."

"And for every rape you prevented, I'd bet my wing-talons that there were fifty you never even heard about," Rebecca said darkly. "Rapes that mostly took place inside homes or frat dorms or hotel rooms, where you couldn't see them."

"Most rapists don't think of themselves as evil, or even bad people," Robert went on. "Hell, the majority of rapists are considered by their family and friends as 'good ol' boys' who wouldn't really hurt anyone… because they don't consider getting sex without the woman's consent, as really hurting someone. You've been in the modern world for two years now, right? Surely you've heard of the term 'date rape' by now?"

Lex looked uncomfortable. "Well, yeah, we've heard of it, sorta. Brooklyn found a magazine in a dumpster that had a page with part of an article on it. He asked Elisa about what the rest of the article might have said, and she said she'd explain later, but she never did."

"I'm not surprised; it's an uncomfortable subject for most humans," Robert responded. "Because the primary cause of date-rape is built right into their culture; into what they teach their children. Look, even with relatively limited contact with humans until recently, you had to have noticed how they think of sex, right? How a man's gotta have it, or he isn't really a man… but a woman isn't supposed to have it until she's married."

Yeah, that I noticed. From overhearing conversations in the castle back then, and on the streets nowadays… but it never made much sense to me," Lex admitted. "Because if all the men are supposed to have sex even before they're married, but all the women aren't, then who are the unmarried men going to have sex with?"

"The official answer is 'prostitutes'. Though they end up being scorned as the dregs of society, even by the very men that they provide sex for," Robert said. "But the problem is bigger than that. Think about it; a human boy growing up sees and hears the older men talking about their wives or their sexual exploits; bragging about when they have it, complaining when they're denied it. The average human boy gets the idea that he's not only expected to have sex with a woman; he's entitled to it, just because he's a male. And the implication that women exist in order to fill men's sexual needs…"

"And while most religions might not agree with the first idea, they sure as hell endorse the second one," Rebecca interjected.

Robert gave her an irritated glance. "Don't even get me started on human religions tonight, Becca. Anyway, Lex, the result is a cultural mindset that the female gender is somewhat inferior, not just because they're generally not as strong physically but because their perceived role is to make men happy… to serve them, or at least to please them. Women get a lot of societal pressure to look nice and pretty, pleasing to the eye, even for total strangers. There's also the idea that in a relationship, the man is expected to provide protection or shelter, food and et cetera for the woman, while the woman is expected to provide sex for the man at any time he wants it, and take care of any children they have. It's almost never stated as an outright contract, but that's their quid pro quo."

"That's probably the way it was for the humans back in medieval Scotland; at least it was for the bit about the man providing shelter while the woman provided child care," Lex remembered. "And now that I recall, the way the men treated the women never really seemed like an equal partnership to me. But, well, since humans are so different from gargoyles in so many other ways, if that sort of relationship works for them…"

"It does work, for a lot of them. But it spells trouble for more of them, particularly for the women. Because of that mindset that they're entitled to the sex that women are supposed to provide for them, there are a lot of men who just see nothing wrong in 'getting what they're entitled to', even when the woman doesn't voluntarily provide it. For far too many men, satisfying their sex drives is more important than actually respecting the woman's right to her own body. These men don't even see what they do as rape; just as 'getting a little aggressive' when having sex with their dates. And if the woman even has the opportunity to say no, she doesn't want it… he's apt to think she's just 'playing hard to get', because their culture expects her to. So he tells himself that her 'no' doesn't really mean 'no', and keeps going… and even if she makes it absolutely plain that she really doesn't want to have sex with him, because he's usually physically stronger than her, he can force it on her anyway. Or he puts a drug in her drink or encourages her to drink far too much alcohol, until she's incapable of mustering any resistance when he decides it's time to get what he wants."

"That's… that's so wrong!" Lex blurted out.

"It sure is, but it happens a lot," Rebecca said grimly. "For every stranger-rapist who grabs women off the street or invades their homes, and rapes them at gunpoint or knifepoint because he's a sick bastard who genuinely wants to hurt and terrorize women, there are dozens of other men who rape their girlfriends, dates and acquaintances just because they want sex and think they're perfectly entitled to it, as 'payment' for dinner or a movie. Or even just a drive home at night… and the usual reason given for driving her home is so the girl won't have to walk the streets alone and possibly be threatened by a rapist. The irony is sickening."

"But getting back to Marie… she used to be the unofficial leader of our rookery generation. She thinks she's still entitled to lead, even if everyone else now realizes that all she was really good at was making our lives miserable. Moreover, she thinks she's entitled to pretty much anything she wants… and that includes a male for a mate. Just like for a male human rapist, the other party's own desires don't really matter to her." Robert gave an equine snort. "Last time Adelbert got drunk, he actually thanked me for not 'coming out' to the clan about being gay until well after he and our other brothers had had their mating ceremonies… and for not finally getting Marie off my case until just before then. Since Marie had her talons set for me for years, no matter what I did to dissuade her, she more-or-less left the others alone; enough that they could court without interference."

Rebecca gave a lopsided grin as she added, "The night after the fais-do-do that Robert finally got Marie off his back by humiliating her in public, Joan eloped with Adelbert into the bayou and didn't come back until they both had bonding markers; Joan told me later she just refused to take a chance on Marie setting her talons for Adelbert instead. And the other pairs all had their mating ceremonies within the next six months. And I have to admit, even though I was feeling left out and lonely too, I was kinda glad to see how pissed off Marie looked at each ceremony."

"And that's all the talk about Marie that I want to hear for the next eight nights," Robert said decisively as he caught an updraft. "Now let's pick up the pace; we need to be a few miles further away before we start scouting for good dry perches for sunrise."

"And getting something to eat," Lex added. "I haven't eaten yet, and I'm betting neither of you have either. So, what's the best way to catch a gator?"


Back at the estate, Adam approached Goliath with a brow ridge raised in question. "I haven't seen Lexington since the council meeting. How is he taking Rebecca's rather abrupt absence?"

Goliath took a deep breath before admitting, "He officially requested permission to take an extended hunting trip. And yes, I granted it to him. To be honest, if I hadn't done so, I wouldn't have put it past him to throw something at Marie's other wing."

"He went with them?" Adam snorted and shook his head. "Now it really is just an extended hunting trip. Three friends going out together is no punishment at all."

Goliath nodded, then smirked as he suggested, "There is the possibility that Lexington will go into video game withdrawal... In truth, he really is too fond of those devices; I believe some time away from modern technology will do him good." Then he looked around. "But speaking of modern technology, where in your home can I find a clock?"

There should be one right in… this room, here." Adam stepped out of the hallway for a moment, then back in with "It's 2:45 a.m."

"Nearly three! Excuse me, Adam; I must return to the cottage," as Goliath hurried down the hall, glancing into the rooms he passed; looking for the nearest open window that was large enough for him to fit through. Elisa had promised she would call him on the cell phone in the cottage, at roughly three o'clock.

He made it to the cottage with a few minutes to spare, and paced until the tiny phone on the table chirped at him. He picked up the phone and flipped it open just as he'd seen Elisa do, and said cautiously, "Hello?"

"Hey, Big Guy," he heard; the voice was tinny and faint, but it was still unmistakably his beloved mate.

"Elisa! Did you have a safe journey? Is all well at your precinct? Does your captain suspect anything?"

"Whoa, Big Guy; one question at a time!" Elisa chuckled. "Yes, my flight was uneventful. Downright boring, in fact, when compared to flying with you…"


Yet Another Author's Note: I'm a fan of the author Terry Pratchett, and for those who want to get some idea of what life was like for Rebecca and Robert's rookery generation while they were growing up, I highly recommend reading Pratchett's book A Hat Full of Sky. The young witch Annagramma has the same attitude and plays the same role that Marie did when she was the unofficial leader of her generation. Queen Bees appear and thrive wherever other people will let them, and their rule is all the more effective when it's unofficial.

I should note here that some people really are natural leaders, and have done a lot of good for their peers, organizations, hometowns and governments. But though they possess the charisma/force of personality to manipulate others and make the weaker-willed or unprepared automatically defer to them, there is a vast chasm of difference between a Queen Bee—or Big Dog, the term commonly used for boys and men in that role—and a true leader who actually has the best interests of the group in mind, and serves them even more than they serve him/her. True leaders are unfortunately rare.